AboutZoos, Since 2008


New inven­tion dri­ves poach­ing to extinction!

pub­lished 23 July 2015 | mod­i­fied 23 July 2015

A 247 real-​time mon­i­tor­ing device for ani­mals threat­ened by poach­ing, includ­ing rhino, tiger and ele­phant, has been invented by a British team. Wel­comed by experts as a ground-​breaking new tech­nol­ogy and poten­tial life­line for poached species, a new non-​profit con­ser­va­tion organ­i­sa­tion, Pro­tect, is tak­ing for­ward devel­op­ment with sup­port from Humane Soci­ety International.

Rhino horn camera deviceSouth African team mem­bers work with anti-​poaching rangers (faces obscured for secu­rity rea­sons) on proof of con­cept research for the Pro­tect RAPID video cam­era com­po­nent, estab­lish­ing the best posi­tion­ing of the cam­era and a way to pain­lessly implant it into the rhino horn. (Source: Pro­tect RAPID)

Amidst fig­ures from Africa and Asia show­ing dra­matic crashes in pop­u­la­tions of rhino and ele­phant due to poach­ing, a British led team has devel­oped a new anti-​poaching device, pub­lished online on 28 April in the Jour­nal of Applied Ecol­ogy, that could dra­mat­i­cally reduce poach­ing over the next decade.

Rhino poach­ing has increased some 9,300 per­cent since 2007 in South Africa alone, where the vast land­scapes mean that even highly capa­ble anti-​poaching forces are unaware of poach­ing events until it is far too late. So, arrest and con­vic­tion rates are low, and there is lit­tle deter­rent to poachers.

The Pro­tect RAPID (Real-​time Anti Poach­ing Intel­li­gence Device) aims to solve the prob­lem by com­bin­ing a GPS satel­lite col­lar with a heart rate mon­i­tor and video cam­era. Broad­cast­ing 247 real time infor­ma­tion to a con­trol cen­tre, anti-​poaching teams can be alerted and dis­patched to poach­ing events within sec­onds of them tak­ing place.

Dr Paul O’Donoghue, chief sci­en­tific advi­sor for Pro­tect, who has worked with endan­gered black rhino pop­u­la­tions for more than 15 years explains:

Cur­rently a rhino is butchered every six hours in Africa, the issues are many, but there’s far too much money at stake to believe that leg­is­la­tion alone can make the dif­fer­ence, we had to find a way to pro­tect these ani­mals effec­tively in the field; the killing has to be stopped.

With this device, the heart rate mon­i­tor trig­gers the alarm the instant a poach­ing event occurs, pin­point­ing the loca­tion within a few metres so that rangers can be on the scene via heli­copter or truck within min­utes, leav­ing poach­ers no time to har­vest the valu­able parts of an ani­mal or make good an escape. You can’t out­run a heli­copter, the Pro­tect RAPID ren­ders poach­ing a point­less exercise.”

The device already has the back­ing of lead­ing rhino vet­eri­nar­i­ans and con­ser­va­tion­ists in South Africa, includ­ing Dean Peinke, Spe­cial­ist Mam­mal Ecol­o­gist for the East­ern Cape Parks and Tourism Agency, who said: “We sim­ply don’t know where or when poach­ers might strike, to effec­tively patrol these vast land­scapes requires an army and still poach­ers could find a way through; they are well organ­ised and equipped, and they will find gaps in almost any defence because the rewards are so great.”

Pro­tect RAPID Rhino Cam Footage; anti-​poaching device field tri­als in South Africa:

(Source: Pro­tect YouTube channel)

These devices tip the bal­ance strongly in our favour, if we can iden­tify poach­ing events as they hap­pen we can respond quickly and effec­tively to appre­hend the poach­ers; it’s very excit­ing to be able to work with Pro­tect on the first field tri­als of the Pro­tect RAPID with our own South­ern black rhino population.”

Humane Soci­ety Inter­na­tional, which is work­ing with the gov­ern­ment of Viet­nam on an effec­tive edu­ca­tion and out­reach pro­gramme to reduce demand for rhino horn, has been fast to sup­port devel­op­ment of the device. Claire Bass, exec­u­tive direc­tor of HSI UK, com­ments; “Reduc­ing mar­ket demand is crit­i­cal to safe­guard wildlife long term, but it needs to be cou­pled with urgent, effec­tive action to stop the cur­rent poach­ing cri­sis. The Pro­tect RAPID could be a game changer in the increas­ingly des­per­ate fight against poach­ing, and the tech­nol­ogy has the poten­tial to be applied to other crit­i­cally endan­gered species includ­ing tigers and ele­phants. We are excited to have this oppor­tu­nity to fund the project and hope other back­ers will join us to get the tech­nol­ogy into the field as quickly as possible.”

Steve Piper, a direc­tor of Pro­tect, elab­o­rates; “Proof of con­cept research has already been com­pleted and our South African team are now prepar­ing to fine tune pro­to­types in the field, we expect to have the first rhino pro­to­types out within months and are just begin­ning devel­op­ment on ver­sions for tigers and ele­phants. We hope to have a fully func­tional con­trol cen­tre estab­lished early next year. The fig­ures make it painfully clear; there is no time to waste, the tide has to be turned and the Pro­tect RAPID can do it; the only thing head­ing for extinc­tion over the next decade is poach­ing itself.”

But still, the ones being poached will end up dead — these ani­mals are being sac­ri­ficed for the good cause: catch­ing poach­ers! [Moos]

(Source: Pro­tect press release, 20.07.2015)

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Tiger range countries map

Tiger map” (CC BY 2.5) by Sander­son et al., 2006.

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